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1.  A Huntingtin Peptide Inhibits PolyQ-Huntingtin Associated Defects 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68775.
Huntington’s disease (HD) is caused by the abnormal expansion of the polyglutamine tract in the human Huntingtin protein (polyQ-hHtt). Although this mutation behaves dominantly, huntingtin loss of function also contributes to HD pathogenesis. Indeed, wild-type Huntingtin plays a protective role with respect to polyQ-hHtt induced defects.
Methodology/Principal Findings
The question that we addressed here is what part of the wild-type Huntingtin is responsible for these protective properties. We first screened peptides from the Huntingtin protein in HeLa cells and identified a 23 aa peptide (P42) that inhibits polyQ-hHtt aggregation. P42 is part of the endogenous Huntingtin protein and lies within a region rich in proteolytic sites that plays a critical role in the pathogenesis process. Using a Drosophila model of HD, we tested the protective properties of this peptide on aggregation, as well as on different polyQ-hHtt induced neuronal phenotypes: eye degeneration (an indicator of cell death), impairment of vesicular axonal trafficking, and physiological behaviors such as larval locomotion and adult survival. Together, our results demonstrate high protective properties for P42 in vivo, in whole animals. These data also demonstrate a specific role of P42 on Huntington’s disease model, since it has no effect on other models of polyQ-induced diseases, such as spinocerebellar ataxias.
Altogether our data show that P42, a 23 aa-long hHtt peptide, plays a protective role with respect to polyQ-hHtt aggregation as well as cellular and behavioral dysfunctions induced by polyQ-hHtt in vivo. Our study also confirms the correlation between polyQ-hHtt aggregation and neuronal defects. Finally, these results strongly suggest a therapeutic potential for P42, specific of Huntington’s disease.
PMCID: PMC3701666  PMID: 23861941
2.  Gαo Is Required for L-Canavanine Detection in Drosophila 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63484.
Taste is an essential sense for the survival of most organisms. In insects, taste is particularly important as it allows to detect and avoid ingesting many plant toxins, such as L-canavanine. We previously showed that L-canavanine is toxic for Drosophila melanogaster and that flies are able to detect this toxin in the food. L-canavanine is a ligand of DmXR, a variant G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) belonging to the metabotropic glutamate receptor subfamily that is expressed in bitter-sensitive taste neurons of Drosophila. To transduce the signal intracellularly, GPCR activate heterotrimeric G proteins constituted of α, β and γ subunits. The aim of this study was to identify which Gα protein was required for L-canavanine detection in Drosophila. By using a pharmacological approach, we first demonstrated that DmXR has the best coupling with Gαo protein subtype. Then, by using genetic, behavioral assays and electrophysiology, we found that Gαo47A is required in bitter-sensitive taste neurons for L-canavanine sensitivity. In conclusion, our study revealed that Gαo47A plays a crucial role in L-canavanine detection.
PMCID: PMC3646046  PMID: 23671680
3.  Muscle Dystroglycan Organizes the Postsynapse and Regulates Presynaptic Neurotransmitter Release at the Drosophila Neuromuscular Junction 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(4):e2084.
The Dystrophin-glycoprotein complex (DGC) comprises dystrophin, dystroglycan, sarcoglycan, dystrobrevin and syntrophin subunits. In muscle fibers, it is thought to provide an essential mechanical link between the intracellular cytoskeleton and the extracellular matrix and to protect the sarcolemma during muscle contraction. Mutations affecting the DGC cause muscular dystrophies. Most members of the DGC are also concentrated at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), where their deficiency is often associated with NMJ structural defects. Hence, synaptic dysfunction may also intervene in the pathology of dystrophic muscles. Dystroglycan is a central component of the DGC because it establishes a link between the extracellular matrix and Dystrophin. In this study, we focused on the synaptic role of Dystroglycan (Dg) in Drosophila.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We show that Dg was concentrated postsynaptically at the glutamatergic NMJ, where, like in vertebrates, it controls the concentration of synaptic Laminin and Dystrophin homologues. We also found that synaptic Dg controlled the amount of postsynaptic 4.1 protein Coracle and alpha-Spectrin, as well as the relative subunit composition of glutamate receptors. In addition, both Dystrophin and Coracle were required for normal Dg concentration at the synapse. In electrophysiological recordings, loss of postsynaptic Dg did not affect postsynaptic response, but, surprisingly, led to a decrease in glutamate release from the presynaptic site.
Altogether, our study illustrates a conservation of DGC composition and interactions between Drosophila and vertebrates at the synapse, highlights new proteins associated with this complex and suggests an unsuspected trans-synaptic function of Dg.
PMCID: PMC2323113  PMID: 18446215
4.  Systemic delivery of P42 peptide: a new weapon to fight Huntington’s disease 
In Huntington’s disease (HD), the ratio between normal and mutant Huntingtin (polyQ-hHtt) is crucial in the onset and progression of the disease. As a result, addition of normal Htt was shown to improve polyQ-hHtt-induced defects. Therefore, we recently identified, within human Htt, a 23aa peptide (P42) that prevents aggregation and polyQ-hHtt-induced phenotypes in HD Drosophila model. In this report, we evaluated the therapeutic potential of P42 in a mammalian model of the disease, R6/2 mice.
To this end, we developed an original strategy for P42 delivery, combining the properties of the cell penetrating peptide TAT from HIV with a nanostructure-based drug delivery system (Aonys® technology), to form a water-in-oil microemulsion (referred to as NP42T) allowing non-invasive per mucosal buccal/rectal administration of P42. Using MALDI Imaging Mass Spectrometry, we verified the correct targeting of NP42T into the brain, after per mucosal administration. We then evaluated the effects of NP42T in R6/2 mice. We found that P42 (and/or derivatives) are delivered into the brain and target most of the cells, including the neurons of the striatum. Buccal/rectal daily administrations of NP42T microemulsion allowed a clear improvement of behavioural HD-associated defects (foot-clasping, rotarod and body weights), and of several histological markers (aggregation, astrogliosis or ventricular areas) recorded on brain sections.
These data demonstrate that NP42T presents an unprecedented protective effect, and highlight a new therapeutic strategy for HD, associating an efficient peptide with a powerful delivery technology.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s40478-014-0086-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4149238  PMID: 25091984
Huntington’s disease; Mouse model; Peptide; Microemulsion
5.  Plant Insecticide L-Canavanine Repels Drosophila via the Insect Orphan GPCR DmX 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(6):e1000147.
An orphan G-protein-coupled gustatory receptor mediates detection of the plant poison L-canavanine in fruit flies.
For all animals, the taste sense is crucial to detect and avoid ingesting toxic molecules. Many toxins are synthesized by plants as a defense mechanism against insect predation. One example of such a natural toxic molecule is l-canavanine, a nonprotein amino acid found in the seeds of many legumes. Whether and how insects are informed that some plants contain l-canavanine remains to be elucidated. In insects, the taste sense relies on gustatory receptors forming the gustatory receptor (Gr) family. Gr proteins display highly divergent sequences, suggesting that they could cover the entire range of tastants. However, one cannot exclude the possibility of evolutionarily independent taste receptors. Here, we show that l-canavanine is not only toxic, but is also a repellent for Drosophila. Using a pharmacogenetic approach, we find that flies sense food containing this poison by the DmX receptor. DmXR is an insect orphan G-protein–coupled receptor that has partially diverged in its ligand binding pocket from the metabotropic glutamate receptor family. Blockade of DmXR function with an antagonist lowers the repulsive effect of l-canavanine. In addition, disruption of the DmXR encoding gene, called mangetout (mtt), suppresses the l-canavanine repellent effect. To avoid the ingestion of l-canavanine, DmXR expression is required in bitter-sensitive gustatory receptor neurons, where it triggers the premature retraction of the proboscis, thus leading to the end of food searching. These findings show that the DmX receptor, which does not belong to the Gr family, fulfills a gustatory function necessary to avoid eating a natural toxin.
Author Summary
Plants evolve to fend off the insects that attack them, often by synthesizing compounds toxic to insects. In turn, insects develop strategies to avoid these plants or resist their toxins. Some plant toxins are nonprotein amino acids. For example, seeds from numerous legumes contain high amounts of l-canavanine, a nonprotein amino acid that is structurally related to l-arginine and is highly toxic to most insects. How insects can detect l-canavanine remains to be elucidated. Using pharmacology, genetics, and behavioral approaches, we show that flies sense l-canavanine using the receptor DmX, an orphan G-protein–coupled receptor that has diverged in its ligand binding pocket from metabotropic glutamate receptors. Disruption of the DmXR gene, called mangetout (mtt), suppresses the l-canavanine repellent effect. DmXR is expressed and required in aversive gustatory receptor neurons, where it triggers the premature retraction of the proboscis, thus leading to the end of food searching. Our results indicate a mechanism by which some insects may detect and avoid a plant toxin.
PMCID: PMC2695807  PMID: 19564899

Results 1-5 (5)